A sparse homecoming crowd of 36,939 — most of whom departed by halftime — watched at Arizona Stadium as Arizona’s defensive woes continued with Chuck Cecil in his first game as the interim defensive coordinator.
The Wildcats allowed Oregon State 572 yards in total offense in a 56-38 defeat, their fourth straight loss. These are the same Beavers who had 499 yards combined against two of the better defenses in the Pac-12 — Utah and California in their previous two games. The 56 points are the most for Oregon State in a conference road game in its program’s history.
Oregon State never trailed as Jake Luton passed for 328 yards, Isaiah Hodgins had 150 yards receiving and Artavis Pierce and Jermar Jefferson combined for 219 yards rushing.
Luton completed 20 of 26 pass attempts with three touchdowns and no interceptions. He has thrown only one interception in 245 attempts this season.
“Their quarterback is doing an excellent job. Their team has two turnovers for the whole season. He’s doing a great job of taking care of the football,” Arizona coach Kevin Sumlin said. “Their two running backs are excellent. They have a lot different personnel than they had at this time last year (when Arizona won 35-14 last year at Corvallis). “
Pierce gained 114 yards with a touchdown on 15 carries and Jefferson finished with 105 yards on 22 rushes with three touchdowns.
Arizona (4-5, 2-4 Pac-12) is trying to fix itself with Cecil taking over as defensive coordinator after his predecessor Marcel Yates was fired last week. Cecil, a popular Arizona player for his tenacity who went on to play in the NFL and serve as a defensive coordinator with the Tennessee Titans in 2009 and 2010, probably gnawed his teeth countless times watching Oregon State gain yards in clumps without much resistance.
“We just have to pick it up and stay together as a team,” said Arizona running back J.J. Taylor, a tough runner who finished with 78 yards on 21 carries and two touchdowns. “When this happens, a lot of people point fingers. We have to remain who we are and work together.”
Arizona continued its two-quarterback system with true freshman Grant Gunnell and senior Khalil Tate. Gunnell played most of the second half and engineered three touchdown drives. He completed 19 of 29 passes for 269 yards in the game with two touchdowns and no interceptions.
Tate, who completed 7 of 12 passes for 109 yards, could not lead the Wildcats down the field in Arizona’s last possession of the first half and first coming out of halftime. Some boos cascaded from Arizona Stadium at the end of those drives. When Gunnell replaced him in the third quarter, many fans cheered.
“Grant did some good things. When he was in there in the first couple of drives in the first half, we scored,” Sumlin said. “In this game, it pays off with results, not numbers. He operated well. He made some mistakes with reads as a freshman but he used his legs more in this game and made no turnovers.
“From the blitzing (by Oregon State) and (the patchwork) line in front of him, he did as good of a job as he was able to do.”
Sumlin added that “We feel good about both those guys,” in terms of keeping the two-quarterback system for now.
Kevin Sumlin said QB Grant Gunnell was about as good as one could be in Arizona’s loss to Oregon State pic.twitter.com/mC922xwKZD
Arizona’s offensive line lost center Josh McCauley and guard Bryson Cain to freak leg injuries on the same play in the first half. They both tumbled backward with their legs caught under a player.
Former Marana standout Jordan Morgan, a true freshman, was forced to play in his fourth game of the season. Sumlin said Arizona has a decision to make whether to continue playing Morgan or preserving his redshirt status. Once a freshman plays more than four games, he can’t redshirt.
Arizona’s bye week before playing at Oregon in two weeks comes at a good time to heal physically and mentally.
“When things go well it’s easy for everybody,” Sumlin said. “When things happen the way they’ve happened the last few weeks it’s important to come together. When you deal with what we’re going through right now what’s important is what’s said in this locker room. We can only keep fighting.”
Oregon State (4-4, 3-2) managed to hold on a 35-19 lead it took at halftime behind Luton’s 13-of-19 passes for 244 yards and two touchdowns. Hodgins had 96 yards receiving in the first half as the Beavers picked apart Arizona’s pass defense, which ranks No. 128 nationally.
Four of the Beavers’ first five possessions resulted in touchdowns. They punctuated the first half with a 92-yard drive on seven plays that took only 54 seconds. Luton connected with Noah Togiai for a 23-yard score with 4 seconds remaining until the half.
Oregon State continued to roll in the second half with the Beavers taking their first possession 65 yards on seven plays to build a 42-19 lead. Jefferson completed the drive with a 5-yard scoring run.
Gunnell helped the Wildcats rally to cut the lead to 42-31 with 3:20 left in the third quarter. Arizona was in position to cut the lead further, going from its 1-yard line to the Oregon State 21 but that possession ended with a missed 39-yard field goal by Lucas Havrisik with 11:16 remaining in regulation.
Whatever momentum the Wildcats gained was lost. Oregon State scored a touchdown on its ensuing possession going 79 yards on seven plays
“We miss that field goal and it kind of deflated us,” Sumlin said.
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.